PIPING PLOVER WEEKLY UPDATE -SIX PLOVERS AND THREE WILLETS! Plus Semi-palmated Plovers, Yellow Legs, a Least Sandpiper, and More Black-bellied Plovers

Six Piping Plovers (Saturday morning 5/18/19)

Five Semi-palmated Plovers (Monday morning 5/20/19)

Four Piping Plovers (Sunday night, Monday morning 5/19/19)

Three Willets (Saturday morning 5/18/19)

Two Black-bellied Plovers (Monday morning 5/20/19)

Two Yellow Legs (Tuesday morning 5/13/19)

One Least Sandpiper (Monday morning 5/20/19)

Sometime during Friday night, three additional Piping Plovers and three Willets arrived to Good Harbor Beach.

The three new PiPls made for a total of six spotted at sunrise on Saturday morning–our mated pair, the Bachelor, two new boys and a new girl. While Mama was on the nest, five foraged at the tidal flats. There were several territorial skirmishes before two flew off. I wasn’t able to wait to see if they returned.

Winsome Willets

Saturday morning also found three Willets foraging at the tidal flats. Although I didn’t see them later in the day, I did hear their wonderfully distinct calls. I wonder if they will stay. Willets breed in our area and I am fairly certain there was a nesting pair at the Good Harbor Beach salt marsh last summer, the first time I have ever seen Willets regularly there.

New girl on the scene

New boy on the scene

Sunday late afternoon/early evening four PiPls were at Good Harbor Beach. One on the nest, and three were foraging at the flats. More smack downs between the boys and I didn’t see the pretty female.

Papa Plover defending his nesting territory

Early Monday, and the four PiPls are still here, plus five Semi-palmated Plovers, one Least Sanderling, and two Black-bellied Plovers. The two Black-bellied Plovers were not the same as the two we saw last week. They  were frightened off by a flock of seagulls in flight and didn’t stay long. The Least Sandpiper, Black-bellied Plover, and Semi-palmated Plover breed in the tundra across extreme northern North America. Yellow Legs breed in the boreal forests, wetlands, and meadows of the far north. All four species are finding lots to eat at their Good Harbor Beach stopover.

Yellow Legs

Black-bellied Plover

Least Sandpiper

Semi-palmated Plover

Good eating at Good Harbor

May’s Full Flower Moon brought several very high tides, but our PiPl nest is tucked up safely near the dune edge. In the photo you can see how close the seaweed came to the nest.

High tides and beautiful sunrise Saturday morning

WINSOME WILLETS

A Plain Jane, resting on a tuft of grass at the marsh edge, backlit, I at first thought she was a stone. A slight turn of the head and upon closer look, not a stone but a very large shorebird, with feathers worn in a subdued arrangement of brown and white—still, nothing special. Then she began to unfold her long elegant wings. Boldly barred in chocolate brown, this Plain Jane was swiftly transformed to Beauty Queen.

Willets are one of the few shorebirds that nest not in the Arctic tundra, but prairie and salt marshes of America and Canada. For over one hundred years Willets were hunted to non-existence in Massachusetts. Biologists have a name for this tragic occurrence, when a species is not extinct, but is no longer present in an area, and the term is extirpated. Because of the Migratory Bird Act of 1918, the Willet population is increasing and the Massachusetts coastline has once again become a safe home for these beautiful members of the sandpiper family.

Belonging to the same genus as yellowlegs, they do look similar to Greater Yellowlegs, but are comparatively larger, their beaks are thicker, and their legs are not yellow but gray. Look for Willets on beaches, marshes, mudflats, and rocky coasts. They forage on crabs and other small crustaceans, worms, mollusks, fish, and grass. The call of the Willet is unmistakable, piercing and urgent and their name comes from the ringing “pill-will-willet.”

M IS FOR MAY MIGRATION THROUGH MASSACHUSETTS

During the month of May, Massachusetts is graced daily with species arriving from their winter homes. Some need to fortify for the journey further north, to the boreal forests, bogs, and tundra of Canada and Alaska. Some will nest and breed in Massachusetts, finding suitable habitat along the coast, and in the marsh, scrub, shrub, forest, and grassland found throughout the state. For several projects on which I am currently working, I have been exploring wildlife sanctuaries along the Massachusetts coastal region. Here is just a sampling of some recently spotted migrants, and it’s only May 4th. Lots more to come!

Biggety Brant ~ This Brant Goose appeared to be the bossy boots of his gaggle, chiding, nipping, and vocally encouraging the group along. A large of flock of approximately 40 Brants was recently reported by readers Debbie and Dan, seen at Back Beach in Rockport. The Brants are heading to the wet, coastal tundra of the high Arctic. No other species of goose travels as far north or migrates as great a distance as do Brants.

W is for Wading Willet. A PAIR were well hidden in the marshy grass! Both the flesh and the eggs of Willets are considered tasty. They were nearly hunted to extinction, saved only by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. Willets breeding in Massachusetts is nothing short of a miracle. Notice how closely they resemble Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs; all three belong to the Genus Tringa.

Y is for Yawping Yellowlegs. Both Greater and Lesser Yellow are seen in Massachusetts marshes at this time of year. Greater Yellowlegs have a loud, distinct call, which they utilize often. The Greater Yellowlegs are feeding on tiny crustaceans, killfish, and minnows to fortify for the journey to the boggy marshes of Canadian and Alaskan coniferous forests.

Piping Plover Piping ~ We should be proud that our state of Massachusetts has the greatest record of Piping Plover recovery. I recently saw a bar graph at a lecture presentation, given by Dave Rimmer at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, which illustrated that the recovery rate has flatlined in Canada and New Jersey, and diminished in the Great Lakes region.

T is for Tree Swallow Tango ~ Males arrive on the scene prior to the females. The courtship ritual involves the gents showing the ladies possible nesting sites.

Tree Swallow preparing for takeoff.